Frank Commentary from a Retired Call Girl with Maggie NcNiell.

Our civilisation cannot afford to let the censor-moron loose. The censor-moron does not really hate anything but the living and growing human consciousness. - D.H. Lawrence

Last Saturday I interviewed Stanley Siegel, LCSW, a psychotherapist, lecturer and author whose popular sex blog Intelligent Lust was quickly becoming one of the most popular on the Psychology Today site…until it was cancelled in the latter part of February for, apparently, being about sex.

MM: So you’ve been writing this column since September, then about six weeks ago you changed editors?

SS: Yes, the editor who originally hired me and was always very enthusiastic took a leave of absence to have a baby, and was replaced by another editor who from the start was cool and distant toward me.  I used to get regular emails from the original editor, things like, “Wonderful column!” and “Keep on doing what you’re doing!”, but once the new editor began I heard nothing.  Also, at Psychology Today there are two indicators of how a blogger is doing; one is a “most popular” list based on the number of views, and my column had risen very quickly to the top of that.  And they were often on the “most essential” list, which is what Psychology Today is recommending to their readers.  Once the editors changed I never appeared on the “most essential” list, so clearly there was a shift in their thinking about what I was doing, but never any comment or guidance.

MM:  So you had signs you were becoming persona non grata, but nobody said “Stanley, let’s do something different.”

SS:  That’s right. And not too long into that new editor’s regime, I started to write more personally about my own sexuality and sexual experiences.  I decided to break the “sacred vow” that psychotherapists are expected to be bound to, which is that you maintain a position of neutrality.  So I came out not only as a gay man but as a highly sexual man at 65, and interestingly my readership increased; those columns in which I was authentic about myself got a tremendous number of viewers, and I got many emails and tweets about how people were inspired by my honesty.  But I got nothing from Psychology Today.

MM:  That certainly jibes with my own experience in my blog.  I seem to get the best response from a mixture of objective and subjective material.

SS:  Yes, I think I really found my voice by doing that.  I referred mostly to the theoretical and academic, and made disclosures about my own experience as appropriate to the subject.  I felt as though I had found a really good balance that was working both for me and for everybody who was reading it.

MM:  So as I understand it, things came to a head when you wrote a sex work-positive column, and the editor went ballistic.

SS:  Well, what happened first was I wrote a column called “Penis Envy”, which was about men’s anxiety about their penises, and in it I talk about my own penis with a sense of humor.  And people appreciated my honesty, I got lots of good feedback on it.  Then when I went to post “Sex Worker or Therapist” I was blocked; there was a flag saying, “For editor’s review”, though previously I could post anything.

MM:  Oh, so the decision was made before she saw the sex work column!

SS:  Yes, so when it didn’t appear after about 20 minutes I sent an email asking why it wasn’t posted and she wrote back a one-sentence comment, “It’s too graphic.”  And I thought, “Okay…”

MM: And it wasn’t graphic at all.  I didn’t find it any different from your column on promiscuity or the one on marriage.

SS:  Exactly, and it is a sex column after all.  But I wrote back asking what exactly was too graphic, and offering to modify it.  She wrote back, “Psychology Today does not write about sex workers or sexual surrogates.”  I knew that wasn’t true because I had done my research and seen a number of other columns on the subject.

MM:  I still get hits every day from Satoshi Kanazawa’s column in which he talks about me, so I know that one is still up there.

SS:  Absolutely.  So I sent her a reply with the links to all the columns that had recently appeared on the subject:  Dead silence.  Then the next morning I got an email from the editor-in-chief saying, “We have decided to retire your column.”  I wrote back that I didn’t understand, and no conversation occurred; she didn’t respond to me, so about three days later I wrote a note saying, “Can I expect to hear from you?  I have given you several opportunities to act professionally in this matter.  Should I not hear from you by the end of the day I will assume that your intention is to stonewall the conversation regarding the questions I raised, and respond accordingly by moving the conversation elsewhere.”  I received an answer stating, “We have always made it clear that we reserve the right to retire any blogger at any time, and review bloggers periodically with an eye toward what content is or is not setting the tone we wish to broadcast.  Should you desire to escalate the discussion we will de-publish all of your posts from our site and archives.”

MM:  “De-publish!”

SS:  That’s it.  Threats.  Intimidation.

MM:  It’s scary how much more common that sort of thing has become, media self-censorship I mean. I used to get the actual magazine for a while in the ‘80s, and I never saw it as a prissy publication which would shy away from the subject of sex.  There’s nothing in your columns that Dr. Ruth wasn’t saying on television 25 years ago.
SS:  I think the self-disclosure, and the fact that I was being positive about sex workers, was too much for this particular editor.

MM:  I’d love to believe, because it would validate my own preconceptions {laughing}, that the editor cancelled your column because of the sex worker thing, but don’t you think that she was already looking for an excuse by that point?

SS:  Yes.  That’s absolutely right.  So, what are the reasons?  I never got an explanation.  I asked many times for conversation; I asked for a meeting so we could discuss the reasons, the subtext for all of this, because it sure sounded homophobic and sex-phobic to me, and they refused.  So I just went public.

MM:  And I think that was the right thing to do.  They may “de-publish” your articles…

SS: They did.  Everything.

MM:  …but they can’t make you an “un-person”.  I mean one could if one were a Stalinesque dictator, but one cannot do that on the internet.  They can remove the columns from their site, but you can publish them on yours.

SS:  Right, and that’s what I plan on doing.  I plan on publishing them on my site, and on other venues if possible.

MM:  I hope I can give you some publicity.

SS:  Thank you.

MM:  Well, it interests me from two points of view.  Before I was a sex worker I was a librarian, so this topic appeals to me from the anti-sex work angle, and also the censorship angle.  It’s crazy to me that a psychology site would censor information about sex, it would be like a medical site censoring information about venereal disease.

SS: {laughing} Exactly.

MM:  So, how much of the blame can really be placed on the editor and how much on the site itself?  Do they have a policy of upholding the decisions of lower editors no matter what, or…?

SS:  Well, I did hear something from the owner, basically saying that they only included columns about sex on the site for the sake of completeness, but they don’t care about them because they aren’t monetizable. They just can’t sell advertising on them.  So even though they bring in a lot of readers, the management feels they’re the “wrong type of audience.”

MM:  Wow.

SS:  And after the “racism” controversy last year with Kanazawa’s column, they’re apparently extra-cautious.  But, this is a psychology magazine!  What is the “wrong type” of reader?  Is there a “wrong type” of patient?  It’s just astounding to me.  It’s such bigotry that it enrages me, and I’m going to do my very best to get the word out.  I’m happy to have the “wrong type” of readers; obviously they’re searching, everybody’s searching.

MM:  I’ve had my own problems with feminists and even other sex worker activists who criticize me not for what I’m saying but for the way I say it, the words I use.  But I think people know lock-step marching when they see it, and tend to disregard it.  What you were doing, giving of your own experience, I think readers know when they see it that they’re seeing something genuine.

SS: And that’s more powerful than anything else.

MM: So, where to?

SS:  For right now I just want to call attention to the bigotry, for as many people to know about it as possible.  And then for me personally, I want to shift the column to my own site or find another place for it, and to keep the sex-positive conversation going.
MM:  Well, I’m going to do my little part to help.

SS: And thank you for that, Maggie.

MM:  Well, we’re all in this together really, all the sex-positive bloggers I mean.

SS:  Yes, and I think it’s especially important to send out a positive message about sex workers.  I’ve benefitted a great deal from them over the years, many people have.  As I said in that column sex workers are like sex therapists, and I think it’s important for people to hear that.